Saturday, June 26, 2010

Global warming threatens the American West

This week two climate researchers warned of a particular threat to the western United States from global warming.

Writing in the 25 June, 2010 edition of the journal Science, Jonathan Overpeck, at the University of Arizona, and Bradley Udall, at the University of Colorado,say that the impacts of global climate change are already being felt throughout the West,as shown by soaring temperatures, the worst drought since systematic records were started, reduced spring snowpack, reduced river flow and reduced water storage in the region's reservoirs.

In addition, they point out that tree ring data show that America's West is prone to episodic mega-droughts that can last not for years but for decades.

Rather than waiting for more studies and more data to determine if the current drought conditions are natural, man-made, or a witch's brew of both, Overpeck and Udall say that planners and decision makers throughout the region need to identify and develop ways to adapt to significantly hotter and drier conditions.

A "no regrets" approach to planning requires that steps be taken soon to make the region and its burgeoning population sustainable within the likely range of climatic conditions during the next decades.

On a more positive note, the authors cite the region's vast potential for solar, wind and geothermal power production. Tapping these green resources, they say, may help the region pay for the inevitable costs of adapting to years or decades of drought.

For more details, click here to see my Suite101 story on this subject.

Robert Adler
for the institute

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